The Plait hnskt in the Coffin Texts.

Ancient Egyptian religion show us how rich was ancient Egyptian thought. They converted common things into special elements able of helping the deceased to get to a new life. There is another aspect of the hair which had a very strong symbolic meaning. The Coffin Texts mention plaits hnskt as an element related to two concrete things: horns and snakes, and both in a context where the dead starts his regeneration.

In chapters 181 and 218 the text mentions an action located in a celestial context where the deceased going forward occident is

“the bull of the plait”[1] ink ka hnsktyand « the bull, lord of the plait »[2] [3].

wsirpakanbhnskt

Both chapters are describing the deceased in a lunar shape. To use the image of a bull for it is not a random choice. It comes from the fact that the bovine horns, due to its shape, are a symbol of the crescent of the moon[4]. That is why in the glorification ceremony in Papyrus Louvre 3079 we read: “Oh! The one, who appears as the moon, bull, which rejuvenates himself in the sky every day!” [5]. Horns are the image of the first quarter of the moon, and therefore they symbolise the evolution of the star from the moment it starts its regeneration.

Comparison of crescent (photo: www.channing.info) with the horns of a bull. Relief from a block in the Open Air Museum of Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martíni.

Comparison of crescent (photo: http://www.channing.info) with the horns of a bull. Relief from a block in the Open Air Museum of Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The connection between bull and moon explains why in the Songs of Isis and Nephtys Osiris is called “bull which fertilizes the cows[6]. Sometimes “the bull of the stars” was assimilated to kA-mwt.f (“the bull of his mother”)[7]; the one who fertilizes his mother is father and son at the same time, this way he grants in the same person the present and future continuity[8]. We are facing the deceased Osiris, the one who impregnates Isis (she, who is mother and wife at the same time) and who is son (as newborn-resurrected) and Horus father.

Amon-Re Kamutef. Relief from the temple of Karnak. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Amon-Re Kamutef. Relief from the temple of Karnak. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

As previously, chapter 219 relates how the deceased travels from East to West and on a boat he crosses the lakes of the horizon. In this context he says:

“…I cross the lakes of the horizon.

I go down in them in (or with) the eggs,

 I go out from them with snakes.

I took over their souls;

I pulled their plaits out…”[9]

Ipulledtheirplaitsout

 Hnkst is a parallel of hnskt. And A. Erman and H. Grapow translate hnksty as plait as a synonym of snake, due to the likeness between both[10].

It seems that to take the souls from the egg and pull the plaits out are on an equal footing, as if the text were describing the act of going out with the snakes. Making that, the deceased catch the life that is inside the eggs, one of the main life centres; this life would be symbolised in those snakes and/or plaits of hair. The dead would go out from the egg (the rebirth) in the same way Osiris went out from the Nut’s womb with the ureus[11]. We would be facing two different forms of saying the same thing: the deceased’s rebirth.

On the other hand, the snake is a lunar animal par excellence. For ancient Egyptians this animal was a symbol of cyclic and temporary transformation (as it was the moon), of fecundity and perpetuity.

Furthermore the word Hnskt is linked with the celestial sphere. The word for Horus (Hr) is also the word for “face” (Hr); we could deduce from that an image of the sky as a face, maybe the face of Horus. The moon and the sun would be the two eyes, while the hair would be the firmament’s supports. Already in V and VI dynasties the Pyramid Texts tells how the plaits Hnskwt of the face of Horus were considered the abode the his four sons[12]; and the Pyramid Texts of king Ounas mentions four ancient spirits who lived in the plaits Hnskwt of hair of Horus and were at the eastern part of the sky holding their sceptres[13].

Horus and his four sons. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo martín.

Horus and his four sons. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.


[1] CT III, 181

[2] In coffin L1Li instead of “plait” it has the word “horns” hnwty.

[3] CT III, 218

[4] G. Durand, 1979, p. 75.

[5] Pap. LouvreI. 3079, cols. 84-86.

[6] Songs…3,6

[7] In the New Kingdom it was an epithet of Amon.

[8] Ph. Derchain, 1962, p. 33.

[9] CT III, 219

[10] Wb III, 121, 2.

[11] See post about nwn gesture and Nut.

[12] E.A.Wallis Budge, 1969, vol. I, p. 466.

[13] E.A.Wallis Budge, 1969, vol. I, p. 157.

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